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Varanus griseus Print E-mail

Koniecznyi's monitor, or the Indian desert monitor is found in central and western Pakistan and India. Auffenberg et al (1989) provide extensive distribution data. They considered that the subspecies occurs only in the past and present Indus valley and is largely restricted to sandy desert, being uncommon in clay deserts. Auffenberg (in Luxmoore & Groombridge 1990) suggests a density of 9 lizards per km2 in the desert scrub of Pakistan. Sprackland's (1992) claim that their range extends "nearly to Burma" is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely considering that this species is restricted to desert areas.

ImageKoniecznyi's monitor is the smallest subspecies of V.griseus. Males reach a maximum length of 84cm TL (37cm SVL) and a weight of 580g. Females grow to 75cm TL (34cm SVL) and weigh up to 520g. Sexual maturity, for females at least, is attained at about 24cm SVL. They reach maximum weights in September and October (Auffenberg et al 1989). These lizards are inactive between December and March, or at least they stop feeding. Corkill (1928) records that they do not hibernate and are seen throughout the day during the winter, and only in early morning and late afternoon during the summer.

Koniecznyi's monitor feeds largely on invertebrates (especially beetles) lizards, reptile eggs, toads and small mammals. It finds most of its food below the ground or under debris. In the desert scrub of Pakistan densities are estimated at 9 specimens per km2. Mating occurs in July or August, during the monsoon and 2-15 eggs are laid in September and October (Auffenberg et al 1989). According to Auffenberg (1986) bipedal combat is characteristic of all Indian monitors and occurs in Koniecznyi's monitor between May and early July. Male Koniecznyi's monitors may become more intense in colour during the breeding season. Auffenberg et al (1989) suggest an incubation period of up to ten months. They also record a biased sex ratio of 2.23:1 in favour of males.

Grey monitors of all  races tend to do very poorly in captivity, rarely surviving for more than a few years. It seems to be essential that the animals are kept cool during the winter in order to stimulate their natural patterns of inactivity. Properly maintained these glorious reptiles have lived in excess of 17 years in captivity and if obtained as juveniles their lifespans could exceed 25 years (Bennett 1994b). Reliable reports of captive breeding occur only for V.griseus griseus (Perry et al 1993). Their animals were kept in hibernation at temperatures as low as 6oC from November to March. For the rest of the year two females and a male were kept in a 20m2 outside enclosure. Seven eggs, weighing about 25.5g each, were incubated at 29-31oC and hatched after 120 days into 10cm SVL (25cm TL) lizards. They were not fed immediately but kept in the dark at 15-20oC for the next five months. After two years they had increased in size to 24cm SVL (59cm TL) and weighed 117-269g. In captivity they will accept a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate prey. This species does not usually tolerate being handled and does not become docile, even after long periods in captivity.

There is some suggestion that the bite of the desert monitor really does have an adverse effect on people. Sopiev et al (1987) record that following a bite from a young Caspian monitor (in which the lizard seized a finger and chewed on it for a minute) the "victim" suffered dizziness, muscular aches and pains, accelerated hearbeat and had difficulty breathing through the mouth. After 24 hours however all symptoms had disappeared. According to Gorelov (1971) injections of saliva from Caspian monitors causes momentary paralysis when injected into small birds and rodents. This however is refuted by Auffenberg (1986) who claims that the salivary glands of desert monitors have no such properties. The desert monitor has been attributed with much more malevolent powers. According to Bogdanov (in Nicolskii 1915) if a desert monitor runs between a man's legs it can rob him of his sexual prowess and render him impotent. Its common name amongst the Kirgizes, kasal, means illness and is derived from this terrifying superstition. In Algeria their ability to survive the bites of venomous snakes is supposed to be due to their habit of seeking out and consuming plants which act as antidotes against the venom (Mammir, pers. comm.). In Turkey the desert monitor is known as zagar, or gomgomok. In Iraq it is urqhal. In Turkmenistan the Caspian monitor is known as zemzem and in Tadjikistan as ichke mere.

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